“We choose to wear a sunflower lanyard when we go out and about in the local community,” says Linda, parent carer to her 22-year-old daughter. As she explains, it’s not always obvious that her daughter has a disability or “that she finds speech and language difficult, that she finds waiting difficult – and busy environments. The most important thing for my daughter is to keep her calm in those appointment settings. Without that she will become extremely anxious.”
Many disabilities, conditions and chronic illnesses are not immediately obvious to others, creating problems if you need more support or patience when interacting with services. You might even find people questioning your right to use certain facilities.
The hidden disabilities sunflower was created to address this issue. It launched at Gatwick Airport seven years ago to help people cope with the stresses of that environment. By wearing the sunflower, often on a lanyard or wristband, you’re just letting people know that you might need extra help, understanding or just more time.
Sometimes it’s really nice to have that offer of ‘hello can I help you’ in any situation.”
Sutton Parent Carer Forum is an advocate of the scheme with surveys among members revealing how valuable sunflower lanyards are to managing potentially stressful situations, whether at transport hubs, shops or medical appointments.
To help promote the scheme, the group sought funding from Sutton Council to record a video, where parent carers talk about the challenges they and their families face and the benefits the sunflower brings.
According to Holly, a young carer to an adult with hidden disabilities: “Sometimes it’s really nice to have that offer of ‘hello can I help you’ in any situation, at the supermarket, at theme parks, just being out and about so we don’t get those weird, funny looks that can be really difficult for a family in that situation.”
In Sutton, all 22 GP practices have now signed up to the hidden disabilities sunflower scheme, which gives them access to online training and the opportunity to display the sunflower on their websites and around the practice.
We are keen to create an environment that is safe and welcoming to all our patients.”
According to Dr Bob Calverley, GP lead for learning disabilities and autism in Sutton: “We are keen to create an environment that is safe and welcoming to all our patients. Some practices might have a dedicated person to support patients with hidden disabilities and others will display posters and wear badges to show they’re part of the scheme.
“If patients and their carers choose to wear the lanyard, it’s really helpful to our reception staff. If they know someone might have additional communication needs, it can help them book the right appointment for them.
“It also means we can support people who are distressed, when waiting if a doctor is running late or for a vaccination or an ambulance. A member of staff can find a quiet space to talk to them to ease the situation.”
Sutton Council joined the scheme in 2020 to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and promote independence and confidence. People wearing a lanyard or wristband can expect to receive support from council staff, who all have access to hidden disabilities training. Residents with disabilities, who don’t have a lanyard, can pick one up free from Sutton civic offices or the central library.
Linda added that Sutton Parent Carer Forum is keen to find out more from residents about improving the scheme in the borough: “We would love to hear from families, parent carers and young people about their experiences, good or bad and hear from them what would make things better for them, how we could work to make the community more inclusive and supportive. A community is not a community if everybody’s not included in it.”
Find out more about the Sutton Parent Carer Form and giving your views via the website.